Public housing and determination pave way to own home

8 December 2023 10:00AM

When Rwandan refugee Aline and her young son were offered public housing in Toowoomba in 2015, she was excited to be able to leave her mother’s house and be independent.

But she had no intention of staying there long. Aline was determined to buy her own home – and within 6 years that’s what she did!

Aline had a turbulent start to life. The 31-year-old was 2 years old when her family fled the genocide in Rwanda. For the next 13 years, she stayed with her mother and brother in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

Her sister was separated from the family when they fled and, for many years, they had no idea if she’d survived.

Her father eventually left them at the camp to return to the Congo to see if his parents were still alive. Aline said they struggled to survive.

'It was very hard, to be honest.

'Mum was a captain in the camp, giving out food. On the days she worked, she’d get more food and that’s how we survived.'

Eventually, the family applied to move to another country. The United States and Norway rejected their applications, but they were accepted to Australia. They moved to Toowoomba in 2007, when Aline was 15.

After completing school, Aline met a man who’d also come from Rwanda and they had a son, Chris. However, the relationship ended, so Aline and Chris stayed with her mum until 2015 when she was offered public housing.

Aline had started saving money when Chris was just a baby and set a goal to buy her own home.

'I’d work and give the money to my mother to keep safe so I wouldn’t spend it. She put it in a tin and then, when I’d have enough, she’d give it back to me to put in a term deposit. That way I couldn’t touch it.'

Over the next 6 years, Aline worked and studied to get ahead. She also married and had 2 more children – Idris and Leyla.

I told my husband, "We need to save and get our own place so someone else can have this house".'

She said that having public housing enabled her to keep saving, even when she had her children and wasn’t working.

'It made a lot of difference for me personally because it was affordable, so I was able to work to a budget and save money.

'If it wasn’t for public housing, I wouldn’t have saved. The rental market was too high, plus with childcare and school fees, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.'

Six years after Aline entered public housing, she’d saved enough for a deposit. But then property prices started rising beyond her loan approval.

'My budget was small. I looked at 30 or 40 houses and even started looking at units to find something I could afford.

'I was very lucky to find this house. I’d been looking for months. The price on the house went up nearly $20,000 but I said to the agent "Please, we need this house".

'He sent me back to the broker and the bank to make sure I could get it, and I managed to increase my deposit with a little help from my mum and some money I’d been investing for my son.

'We moved in during July 2021. We have 3 bedrooms and 2 sitting rooms. It’s fantastic.'

Aline is now a single mum and continues to work hard and save. After studying human services, she works in government and residential care, and also works as an interpreter while running her own laundry and cleaning business.

She said she wanted to encourage others, especially single mums, to not give up.

'If you put your mind into something, you will achieve it. It doesn’t matter if someone says you can’t – just put your mind into it.'

a photo of Aline and her 3 children sitting on the couch